An Irish teenager who has been awaiting trial for almost two years in an Egyptian prison has gone on hunger strike, according to a smuggled letter detailing his fears of torture and abuse.
Ibrahim Halawa, 19, was arrested after attending a pro-democracy protest in Cairo with his three older sisters in August 2013. Although his siblings were released, Mr Halawa was placed in adult custody at the age of 17. He is one of 494 detainees charged collectively with causing deaths and criminal damage during the riots following President Mohamed Morsi’s ousting.
In the letter, Mr Halawa pleaded for his human rights, declaring that he would go on hunger strike until he was released. “Where is human rights,” he wrote, according to The Irish Times, “when every morning I wake up to noises of torture knowing I can be next”.
He added: “Where is human rights when I have been thrown in prison for two years with no evidence? Where is the human right when I don’t see the light of the sun? Hit for every word I say that the officer doesn’t like, not allowed hug my own mother.” The teenager describes sharing a room designed to hold 10 inmates with around 40 other people.
The Irish Embassy and Department of Foreign Affairs say they have pressed for his release on bail, allowing him to return to Ireland. However concerns were raised in parliament this week over the government’s lack of effort to secure Mr Halawa’s release.
Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called the government’s approach to securing the teenager’s freedom “tepid”, and said the Taoiseach should “lift the phone to contact the Egyptian Prime Minister today and state categorically that we demand the release of our citizen”.
In the Dail, Ms McDonald asked the Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton if she supported Amnesty International’s intervention and agreed Mr Halawa was a “prisoner of conscience”. According to the Sinn Fein MP, Mr Halawa’s family is “not convinced that the Government has acted fully and appropriately to secure Ibrahim’s release”.
Ms Burton responded by criticising Ms McDonald for “disregarding the work of Irish officials”. The Labour Chief Whip Emmet Stagg accused Sinn Fein of using the teenager’s situation as “a political football”. Other chamber members made reference to the release of the Australian journalist Peter Greste from an Egyptian cell in February, following the Australian Prime Minister’s intervention. Mr Halawa’s next court date has been set for 2 August, although his sister Somaia told The Irish Times the family is concerned the trial might be delayed even further.